The 1959 Cadillac is a well-known icon of American success and excess, with tail fins soaring higher than on any other car built. What’s less known is the rush that the development team had to put in, along with all the other 1959 GM vehicles, in order to try to play catch up with the Chryslers that surprised GM so much in 1957.
Part of the rush involved something hardly noticed by buyers unless they really knew what to look for, which was the fact that the top-of-the-line Series 60 Special no longer had a specific long wheelbase and body. It was just a Cadillac, and no longer truly as “Special” as the name once had implied. True, the four-door hardtop sedan was still the most expensive non-limousine, closed Cadillac, but it wasn’t until the all-new 1965 cars were introduced that the Series 60 Special regained its 133-inch wheelbase in lieu of 130, as well as a specific roofline.
1959 sales (12,250) were pretty much the same as 1958 (12,900), so Cadillac didn’t lose very many if any sales over the size reduction and perceived loss of prestige. 1960 sales were down a tad (11,800), but that wasn’t a disaster.
The engine was the standard Cadillac 390 V-8 with 325 hp in both years, and the Hydramatic and most luxury features were included in the price, which began at $4,890 in 1959 and dropped to $4,880 for 1960.
The 1960 car retreated from 1959 excesses, but just a bit. Cadillac sold as many cars as Lincoln and Imperial combined. Taking into account that Lincoln luxury cars were divided between that make and the slightly up-scale Continentals (sharing the same huge bodies), just Cadillac’s Series 60 Special easily outsold Continental both in 1959 and 1960.
Cadillac was truly the Standard of the World, and it showed in the self-assured, posh color magazine advertisements. 1959 ads proclaimed “Cadillac… world’s best synonym for quality!” with a uniformed grey-haired door man looking towards the Cadillac in the photo and gowned, elegant young ladies being escorted by their tuxedoed gentleman in prominent view. The 1960 ads were even more over the top, with verbiage like “Unique acclaim – even for a Cadillac!”, “‘Elegance’ is the word that expresses it!” and “The best of years to make it yours!”
People who actually bought these cars weren’t the gowned young ladies and tuxedoed gentlemen in the ads. In reality, they were wealthier, older men who might have more looked the age of the door man in the 1959 ad.
As for pricing, this was well before the pricing of cars got much closer brand-to-brand, as happened later in the 1960s. In this era, a Series 60 Special Cadillac cost 40 percent as much as the average house in the United States. By 1975, a mere 15 years later, the Sixty Special Brougham cost 22 percent as much as the average house in the United States. Today, these cars remain relatively attainable considering the prestige and price when they were new. 1960 cars offer an even better bargain than 1959 examples.